Few watches get their own cameo in Oscar-winning films and then go on to become part of their own dramatic mystery. One such iconic timepiece is about to go on the auction block; Marlon Brando’s once missing Rolex is going up for auction this December (2019).
Personally owned and engraved by the acting legend, the Rolex GMT-Master was worn in the 1979 Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece Apocalypse Now and has its own intriguing tale to tell, and here it is.
Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is an epic film set during the Vietnam War and based on the novella, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Released in cinemas in August of 1979, the film is considered a masterpiece and was nominated for eight Academy Awards.
Marlon Brando portrayed Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, an insane rogue military man who forms his own Cambodian military unit. Brando considered the role of Colonel Kurtz an iconic milestone in his career.
Rolex GMT-Master Cameo
In a climactic scene, Colonel Kurtz, as portrayed by Brando, confronts his pursuer, Captain Benjamin L. Willard played by Martin Sheen. During this scene, Brando’s Rolex GMT-Master gets a cameo, with its bezel missing and a black rubber strap replacing the typical metal bracelet. The watch remains in this same condition as it goes up for auction, with the significant new find of a hand-engraved “M. Brando” discovered on the case back, done by the actor himself.
The Rolex GMT-Master began as a tool watch, meant for commercial pilots working for Pan American World Airways who approached the brand to design a timepiece.
The aim was to show a second time zone so that pilots knew the time at the destination as well as the origin. Because it was a pilot’s watch, it also had luminous hands, a luminous dot on the sweep second hand, and a Cyclops lens to magnify the all-important date window.
In combination with the red 24-hour hand on the dial, the 24- hour bezel was turned so that the hour in the second time zone aligned with the red hand to show the second time zone. As the most distinguishing feature, the rotating bezel was bi-colored to tell the difference between day and night.
In Brando’s GMT-Master Ref. 1675, the Caliber 1565 powered the watch and date feature. To date, the Rolex GMT-Master Ref. 1675 is the longest-running model produced in the brand’s history.
Purchased by Brando in the early 1970s, this famous watch is in the same condition as it appears in the film. The bezel has been removed and a black rubber strap is attached instead of the usual Oyster bracelet, and the personal hand engraving on the case back (see below) makes the watch an exciting find. Where was it all this time?
In 1995, Brando gave the watch to his daughter Petra Brando Fischer when she graduated from Brown University. Found with the watch was a hand-written note saying, “This watch is like a tank. You can do anything you want to it and it will keep on going. I want you to have it as a reminder of how proud I am of you.” Brando’s daughter gave the watch to her husband as a wedding gift in 2003 and it sat in a drawer, never worn.
Inspired by the sale of Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona in 2017, Fischer realized the watch should be offered to collectors. This December, Phillips flagship New York Watch auction known as Game Changers will offer the Brando Rolex GMT-Master. The watch that was mysteriously missing is now available to collectors worldwide as a long-lost treasure to be owned.
Will the Brando Rolex GMT-Master surpass the Newman Daytona when it goes on the block? Watch and learn this December when Phillips brings the gavel down on this iconic watch. Look for your own iconic Rolex GMT-Master right here on Chronoexpert.com, with no bidding and no waiting.